Pangolins or scaly anteaters (order Pholidota, meaning ‘scaled animals’) are a group of unusual mammals with tough, protective keratin scales. The phylogenetic position of the Pholidota remains a disputed topic. Pangolins were once included together with the anteaters, sloths, armadillos and the African aardvark in the order Xenarthra (formerly Edentata), so named because of the lack of some or all of the teeth. It is now believed, however, that any morphological similarities between the pangolins and other ant-eating mammals are the results of parallel adaptations to a common way of life.
The ancestors of the pangolins are thought to have been members of the suborder Palaeanodonta, which diverged from the ancestral edentates some 60 million years ago. These small, armourless animals rapidly became extinct but their successors evolved into the order Pholidota. The fossil record implies that the ancestors of modern day pangolins colonized Africa before Asia, suggesting Asian pangolins evolved later than their African relatives.
Today, the Pholidota is one of the smallest of the placental mammals, containing just one family, the Manidae, with eight living species. Four species are found in Africa and three in Southeast Asia.
Chinese pangolins are of genetic interest due to the differing diploid number of chromosomes found in animals from different areas of their distribution. The Chinese pangolin M. pentadactyla can be distinguished from the Indian pangolin M. crassicaudata due to small scales and from the Sunda pangolin M. javanica due to the lack of pads on its’ soles.
Classified as Critically Endangered (A2d+3d+4d) on the 2014 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The Chinese pangolin has been intensively hunted for its meat, which is considered a delicacy, as well as for its skin, scales and blood which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. In parts of northern China it is tradition to catch pangolins when they emerge from their winter burrows in spring and keep them alive until sold at market. They are then killed by crushing the skull, after which the tongue is quickly cut and bled so the warm blood can be drunk as a tonic.
The species may be harvested for local use, or for international export either before or after processing. Observations in mainland Southeast Asia indicate that there is very heavy unofficial, or at least unrecorded, international trade in pangolins and pangolin products.Hunters interviewed in Viet Nam reported that they now sell all pangolins that they catch. Prices paid to hunters now exceed USD 95 per kg in Vietnam, making national and international trade so profitable that local, subsistence use of pangolins for either meat or their scales has almost completely halted. Since the Chinese pangolin is more terrestrial than other Asian pangolin species it is probably easier to track using specially trained hunting dogs, and as a result may be at even greater risk from hunting than the related Sunda pangolin. Certainly the species is now extremely rare in parts of its range, such as Vietnam and Lao PDR.
Habitat loss and degradation may also be having a negative impact on the species, although evidence suggests that pangolins, in general, are able to adapt to modified habitats, provided their ant and termite food source remains abundant and they are not unduly persecuted.
This project supports in-country EDGE Fellows to help conserve relevant EDGE species
This project aims to obtain baseline information on the status, distribution ecology, the drivers of decline mainly hunting and habitat degradation and to define solutions for mitigating major threats along with plan of action and initiate implementation of program activities in Nangknolyang and Dokhu villages of Taplejung district.
My EDGE Fellowship is to study Pangolins. I have been working for the NTNC since 2011.
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